Organic salmon in BC: ‘Review process has unfortunately become political'
As one of the founding members of the Pacific Organic Seafood Association (POSA), Tofino-based Creative Salmon is actively pursuing Organic Certification. POSA has developed standards for finfish aquaculture that are comparable to any in the world, according to Spencer Evans, Creative Salmon's general manager. The standards have been submitted to the Certified Organic Associations of British Columbia (COABC) for review. “Unfortunately the review process has become political and the organic status for certification through COABC may not be possible,” it says.
A growing global demand for organically raised seafood may require Creative Salmon to have their products certified organic outside the province. “We provide our customers with assurance of wholesome and nutritious premium quality Chinook Salmon,” said Evans.
“Producing only indigenous Chinook Salmon we utilize a natural fish meal diet, growing conditions and husbandry techniques that surpass organic standards in other countries. We haven't used any antibiotics with our market fish for over three and a half years. We recently installed a state-of-the-art pneumatic stunning system for humane harvesting. This coupled with a flow through system to lift the fish out of the cages ensures minimal stress and maximum quality.”
Creative Salmon's six sites are located in the pristine waters of Clayoquot Sound within the traditional territory of the Tla-O-Qui- Aht First Nation. They operate only a maximum of four sites at any one time allowing for site rotation a practice known as fallowing, which minimizes the environmental footprint of any operation.
Following organic standards means the company doesn't cater to the vast commodity markets, rather they see themselves as a niche operation catering to high end restaurants and buyers. 'With our standards we focus on quality not volume,' Evans said. Creative Salmon's ownership is indicative of the high standards and unique markets for their product lines. Three of the partners are from Japanese companies with a long
history in the seafood industry. The primary shareholder is Lions Gate Fisheries, a well known Canadian firm in the seafood business. Creative Salmon is celebrating its 15th anniversary, and looking toward the future.
'We use selective breeding techniques to ensure natural resistance, good flesh color, fast growth and high survivability in our Chinook Salmon' he said. The original genetic material for Creative Salmon came from the Big Qualicum River and now the company maintains its own brood stock program. 'We view fish like we would people. We keep their stress levels down by raising them in a low, density environment. They experience limited handling and are fed a very healthy, natural diet. To ensure the salmon aren't stressed during daily feedings, each cage is equipped with an underwater camera. Every meal is monitored by a trained technician.
The company doesn't count on surface response to determine the feeding needs of their salmon because it is not a good indicator of the salmon's appetite and could result in wasted feed. Since feed represents approximately 50% of their operating budget, the company pays close attention to feed management. 'Excessive waste can negatively impact the environment,' said Evans.
Again, just like people, all the salmon are vaccinated before they are put into the cages. This stimulates their natural immune systems to protect against known pathogens that occur in our area further reducing the need for antibiotics.
'Another challenge to our operation and to the Chinook Salmon are their natural predators, seals and sea lions', said Evans. 'We don't shoot any wild life or use acoustic deterrents. The use of heavy anchoring on nets to keep them taut is a key to protecting the salmon. Low densities also reduce predation. We send divers into every pen twice weekly to remove any dead fish and examine the nets.'
'Organic standards do not allow the use of chemicals in our net washing operations or anti-fouling agents to be used on our nets.'
Evans said the company typically achieves a 90% to 95% survival from smolt to harvest without the use of antibiotics and annual production is approximately 1,500 metric tons with customary harvest weight about 4 kilos (8-10 pounds).
Company Background: Creative Salmon
Creative Salmon has 44 full time employees in their operation of which 20% are members of First Nations. The company prizes the relationship they have with the Tla-O-Qui_Aht First Nation. Creative Salmon was the first aquaculture company in Canada to create a liaison position to facilitate communication between the company and the local First Nation communities.
That position exists today and the benefits have been huge for both parties. 'We have a relationship built on mutual trust and transparency,' Evans said. Another 25 First Nations people are employed at the processing plant on site.